Mary Harron Reflects on Nearly Losing ‘American Psycho’ Director Gig for Rejecting DiCaprio

It was only after DiCaprio dropped out that Harron could return to the director's chair and see her original vision through.
"American Psycho" and Leonardo DiCaprio
"American Psycho" and Leonardo DiCaprio

Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” is such an iconic role for Christian Bale that it’s hard to imagine any other actor as the chiseled murderer, but there was a moment two decades ago where the role was set for Leonardo DiCaprio. “American Psycho” director Mary Harron is making the press rounds in celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary, and she revealed to Little White Lies she nearly lost the project entirely when DiCaprio became interested in playing Bateman. DiCaprio was fresh off “Titanic” at the time, but Harron preferred Bale from the start.

“I didn’t agree with that,” Harron said about the potential casting of DiCaprio as Bateman, “partly because he was such a big star but also because he had a teenage girl fanbase. I just didn’t think he was right for it – so I was fired from the movie for a while.”

DiCaprio took over “American Psycho” and even courted Oliver Stone to direct. It was only when DiCaprio and Stone hit a roadblock over creative differences that Harron was able to step back into the project. “They couldn’t agree on the script,” she said, “so they brought me back and I was able to cast Christian.”

Bale turned out to be Harron’s perfect Patrick Bateman, as she envisioned from the start. The actor even managed to surprise the filmmaker. “His physical preparation was beyond what I expected,” Harron said. “I thought he might have to visit the gym, because Bateman works out, but he went through a complete physical transformation. He only ate grilled chicken.”

“American Psycho” made its debut at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and premiered in theaters that April to critical and commercial success, grossing north of $30 million on a $7 million production budget. Harron’s cast featured Bale opposite Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, and Reese Witherspoon.

In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Harron remembered filming one of the big murders where Patrick kills Leto’s Wall Street investment banker Paul Allen with an ax. The director purposefully rehearsed the scene without Leto present so he would be extra shocked by Bale’s performance. As Harron explained, “Christian held back his performance until then so that it would be a real surprise. When he screams ‘Hey Paul’ and Jared turns around and sees Christian running towards him with the axe, he looks genuinely shocked.”

Twenty years later, “American Psycho” remains a touchstone of the serial killer genre and one of Bale’s most definitive screen roles.

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